The City That Never Sleeps. The Big Apple. The City of Dreams. Whatever you call it, there’s no denying the lure of New York City.
Over 50 million people visit NYC every year, spending tens of billions of dollars on five-star dinners, Broadway musicals, and cab fare.
There’s another option though — you can have an amazing family vacation to NYC on a budget.
Here are six ways to cut costs without cutting fun on your next trip to New York City.
How to Save Money on Hotels in New York City
We prefer staying in hotels in New York City. We haven’t found any great Airbnbs in NYC so hotels are our preference.
If you’ve ever researched hotel options for your family in NYC, you already know the millions of options available. Even if you know the neighborhood you want to be in, there’s probably still hundreds of properties that will fit what you’re looking for.
While we were planning our first visit to New York several years ago, we spent days on end reading all the reviews for hotels and trying to find the best deal.
Eventually I got so frustrated I decided to use Hotwire’s Hot Rate Hotels to help narrow down the choices. This is where Hotwire hides the name of the hotel until after you book and have paid in full. It’s how they’re able to offer such a huge discount.
We’ve stayed at Omni Berkshire Place and the Warwick New York – both are in the Rockefeller Center area (we like that area because it’s between Times Square and Central Park) – and we’ve saved hundreds of dollars each time booking using the Hot Rate Hotels system.
What I really like about Hotwire’s Hot Rate Hotels is that they narrow down the potential hotels you’ll end up with to four properties. So I’ll go and read the reviews for all four properties on TripAdvisor and if I’m OK with them, I’ll go ahead and book.
If I don’t like what the reviews say, I’ll change the criteria (either neighborhood, price range, hotel class, amenities or TripAdvisor ratings) and then read the next four potential properties they say we might end up with.
We’ve saved 25-30% on hotel rooms in Midtown Manhattan. And when the rooms for 3.5 to 4 star properties normally start at $250 USD, it’s quite a bit of money we end up saving if we stay multiple days.
Saving Money on Shows and Events
Although New York is famous for its high-ticket musicals, it’s also home to a thriving independent arts scene.
You can attend plays, dance recitals, and live music events throughout the city. A Broadway musical can cost over $100 for the cheapest tickets, but you can find comedy shows or off-Broadway plays for under $10 a person.
If your heart is set on a Broadway play, consider visiting TKTS in Times Square, Brooklyn, or the South Street Seaport.
TKTS offers discounted admission to musicals, plays, and theater performances both on and off-Broadway; you can save up to 50% by waiting in line for a few minutes.
While the majority of visitors visit TKTS the day of a performance, we recommend visiting TKTS at the beginning of your trip and inquire what’s available a few days in the future. This gives you more flexibility and options to choose the best performance and time that works for your family’s schedule.
Plus, your purchase will help support local access to the arts. Other options include rush tickets, lottery tickets and student discounts. Visit the website of your favorite Broadway show for details on whether they offer any of these money-saving programs.
How to Save Money and Time at Popular Tourist Attractions
If you’re planning to visit multiple tourist attractions in NYC, we highly recommend checking out the various New York City attraction passes. Not only will you save a ton of money on admission but some passes include Skip-the-Line benefits for specific attractions.
Top of The Rock Observatory Deck, Madam Tussauds New York, Empire State Building and 9/11 Memorial & Museum are just a few attractions that have Skip-the-Line or expedited entry benefits.
Below are popular New York City attraction passes you should consider for your next visit to the Big Apple:
- CityPASS New York City
- New York C3 by CityPASS
- New York City Explorer Pass
- The New York Sightseeing Pass
- The New York Pass
How to See the Statue of Liberty for Free
The Statue of Liberty is a must-see destination for tourist to the Big Apple. Don’t get suckered into paying $30+ for a ride to Liberty Island.
Unless you’re a history fanatic or paying out the nose for a tour to the crown, there’s almost nothing to see on the island itself. Instead, take the Staten Island Ferry.
This free cruise gives you a spectacular view of the statue and a spectacular level of savings. Although it’s intended for commuters going from Manhattan to Staten Island, you can ride it round-trip and see Lady Liberty twice.
Save Money on Museum Admission
Admission at several of New York’s most famous museums can be acquired for next to nothing.
In return, these museums cannot charge a set admission price; instead, they ask for a suggested donation. You are free to pay as much or as little as you would like. On Saturday evenings, the Guggenheim uses the same system of suggested donations instead of set ticket prices.
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) offers several different discounts including free admission every Friday night from 4:00 to 8:00PM (known as UNIQLO Free Friday Nights).
How to Save Money on Food
New York City is home to some of the greatest restaurants in the world, but you don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars a person for an amazing culinary experience.
Stop by one of the ubiquitous halal food carts in Manhattan – The Halal Guys is our favorite – pop into a delicatessen for a traditional NYC sandwich, or visit a no-frills ethnic restaurant for lunch or dinner meals under $10.
For breakfast, pick up a giant black and white cookie or a freshly made bagel.
Tours that are Worth the Money
Every tourist attraction and destination in the Big Apple has a tour option. While our family tends to stay away from all-day tours, we do have some short ones that we recommend to families with kids and those with limited time in New York City.
They cover a large area of the city and include stops at places school-age kids find interesting.
Below are two tours our family really enjoyed on previous weekend trips:
Central Park is one of our kids’ favorite places to visit in NYC. It’s relaxing and quiet depending on the time of day you visit – we normally go right after breakfast.
They can spend all day around Heckscher Playground if we let them! If you want to see other notable spots around the park or you just want to get a feel for the park itself before spending a day there, we recommend doing a pedicab tour.
We’ve done the one hour tour on a previous visit to New York and stopped at Strawberry Fields (a spot in the park dedicated to John Lennon), Bethesda Fountain (we HIGHLY recommend walking down to the fountain and terrace because there’s a chance you’ll catch an acapella performance – it was amazing!), The Dakota (John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s past residence) and Cherry Hill.
This tour is geared to any superhero movie or comic book fan. This 3 to 3.5 hour tour (length of tour depends on traffic) takes you to over 40 superhero TV show and movie locations around the city.
I loved that this tour covers a large area of the city which would not have been possible during a weekend visit. This is a bus tour (air-conditioned with a washroom!) so it is perfect for families with young children who are looking for a non-walking tour. You’ll get to see movie/show clips before the bus passes the location.
Our little guy loved being our tour guide’s assistant and holding Thor’s hammer to lead the group back to the bus – there are 3 stops where you get off the bus for photo ops (and a chance to grab a snack or take a washroom break). He also enjoyed seeing spots that were featured in Marvel’s The Avengers movies.
Daily Planet News (Superman) was the highlight of the tour for my husband. He took so many photos inside the building and wasted a lot of data sending the pics to his friends. HA!
This tour starts in Times Square and ends at Battery Park (near the Statue of Liberty). Our tour guide was nice enough to help us navigate the subway back to Times Square. That was a memorable experience for both kids as well!
Getting Around New York City on a Budget
Speaking of the subway, NYC is famous for its public transportation because you can get anywhere you need to go for under $3.
You can buy an unlimited 7-day pass for $33; that’s a steal for a week’s worth of exploring.
Taking the subway lets you see a slice of everyday life in the city, and there are stops by every major attraction. If you’re a dedicated budget traveler, you can even take the subway from JFK or a bus-subway route from LaGuardia.
You can purchase a subway card called the MetroCard (both the per ride version or the unlimited 7-day pass version) at all subway stations, convenience stores, newsstands or online. Read more about the MetroCard here.
If you’re planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip to NYC, it’s okay to break the rules of frugal traveling. You can enjoy a fancy restaurant, shop on Fifth Avenue, or see that Broadway show you’ve been dreaming about for years.
Just exercise restraint in other areas of your trip. Visiting New York City without blowing your budget is possible!
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